We were told that the toilet paper shortage was selfish panic buying – but it turned out that it was mostly just people buying more because being at home meant they needed more… not selfishness, not silliness, just the effect of toilet paper needs moving from some home and some business to mostly home…
This interesting (and short) article from Nautilus suggests we are collectively resilient, and that the pandemic has brought out a fundamental human quality – our willingness to work together and support each other.
Nautilus is an online science magazine, full of interesting ideas and information from scientists. It’s a subscription magazine, but you can read a couple of articles (of your choice) for free each month. You might like to subscribe, and I can recommend their email newsletter, which picks out some of the most fascinating articles.
The proliferation of fake news about the COVID-19 pandemic has been labelled a dangerous “infodemic”. Fake news spreads faster and more easily today through the internet, social media and instant messaging. These messages may contain useless, incorrect or even harmful information and advice, which can hamper the public health response and add to social disorder and division.
Confusingly some fake news also contains a mixture of correct information, which makes it difficult to spot what is true and accurate. Fake news may also be shared by trusted friends and family, including those who are doctors and nurses. They might not have read the full story before sharing or just glanced over it. Before you decide to share, make sure to read stories properly and follow some checks to determine the accuracy.
If the story appears to claim a much higher level of certainty in its advice and arguments than other stories, this is questionable. People will be seeking certainty in a time of high uncertainty, anxiety and panic. So it is only natural to more readily accept information that resolves, reassures and provides easy solutions – unfortunately, often in a false way.
Similarly, if a story is more surprising or upsetting than other stories it is worth double-checking, as fake news will try to grab your attention by being more exaggerated than real stories.
What to look out for
Question the source. References have been made to “Taiwanese experts” or “Japanese doctors” or “Stanford University” during the outbreak. Check on official websites if stories are repeated there. If a source is “a friend of a friend”, this is a rumour unless you also know the person directly.
Check whether any organisation’s logo used in the message looks the same as on the official website.
Credible journalists and organisations are less likely to make repeated spelling and grammar mistakes. Also, anything written entirely in capital letters or containing a lot of exclamation marks should raise your suspicions.
Pretend social media accounts:
Some fake accounts mimic the real thing. For example, the unofficial Twitter handle @BBCNewsTonight, which was made to look like the legitimate @BBCNews account, shared a fake story about the actor Daniel Radcliffe testing positive for coronavirus. Media platforms try to remove or flag fake accounts and stories as well as verify real ones. Look out for what their policies are to try to do this.
Over-encouragement to share:
Be wary if the message presses you to share – this is how viral messaging works.
Use fact-checking websites:
Websites such as APFactCheck and Full Fact highlight common fake news stories. You can also use a search engine to look up the title of the article to see if it has been identified as fake news by the mainstream media.
Who to trust
The best sources to go to for health information about COVID-19 are your government health websites and the World Health Organization website. Primary sources are generally better than news articles.
Even government messaging and the mainstream media can get things wrong, but they are more trustworthy than unverified sources on social media and viral messaging. For instance, The Conversation is a more trusted source because all content is written by academics who are experts in their fields.
The effects can also be more serious than losing some cash. Iran has reported at least 44 people died from alcohol poisoning after drinking bootleg alcohol in a misguided attempt to cure COVID-19.
Unfortunately, the most basic and correct advice given so far does not offer a miracle or special insight. Wash your hands often (use hand sanitisers if you cannot), avoid touching your face, and sneeze or cough into the crook of your elbow or a tissue (and throw it away in a bag-lined bin). Avoid crowds and public places, keep a sensible distance from people, and do not travel unless absolutely necessary. Now many governments are introducing measures including travel bans and quarantines that need to be followed to protect the health of everyone, especially the most vulnerable.
We can all get caught out. Think twice about the messages currently circulating and help guide your family and friends to decide what to trust.
is a magazine of short articles written by experts – that is people affiliated to a university, a teaching hospital etc. In order to write, they have to state their affiliation, and disclose any funding or relationship that might affect their views.
They write for free, and they write in large numbers. Some of the most interesting conversations about the science of covid-19, the emotional, economic, political and environmental effects, and how to stay safe and sane – are happening here.
Unsurprisingly, these experts don’t always agree!
But they tend to the sane, thoughtful, and knowledgeable.
At a time when many ‘celebrities’ seem to think their role is to spread the latest gossip/rumour/nonsense, it’s good to listen in on experts sharing knowledge and ideas, changing their minds (!), and learning from each other.
I would say that the comments range from the extremely thoughtful and enlightening to the usual trolls (who for some reason think their role in life is to be as annoying as possible), but that’s comments for you. Take them with a big pinch of salt 🙂
The Conversation (theconversation.com) has an interesting article showing a new way of visualising the way death rates are changing over time in different countries.
It’s encouraging – the rates seem to be slowing. Probably because of the lockdowns, which are keeping infection rates down, so the number of serious infections is lower, which means the death rate is lower…
There’s plenty of bad news about the virus and its effects, and the media do a lot to spread it.
But there is also an enormous amount going on that can give us hope.
80000hours is a non-profit that helps people decide what to do with their careers, if they’re keen to be part of solving world problems. ( 80000 hours is the time they are likely to spend on their career over a lifetime.) It started at Oxford University, and is still affiliated to them.
An interesting article, from Rob Wiblin, of the Centre for Effective Altruism, is here:
covering the beginnings of improvements in the global situation with covid-19, developments in testing, and other progress.
It’s heavily referenced, and links to other useful and interesting resources.
You may also like to look further at 80000hours.org itself – it’s full of fascinating information about “ways of solving the world’s most pressing problems”.
it’s great for thinking about your own career, or suggesting to friends and relatives who may be taking the opportunity offered by the current crisis to think deeply about their lives.
And it’s also a fascinating window on some of the most pressing problems the world is facing, and some of the newest and most promising ways they might be tackled. Worth your time wherever in your career you might be!
EPIDEMIC is a new, twice-weekly podcast on the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19). Hear from some of the world’s leading infectious disease and public health experts. We’ll help you understand the latest science, the bigger context, and bring you diverse angles—from history and anthropology to politics and economics—depth and texture you won’t get elsewhere.
Hosted by Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist who has worked on tuberculosis and HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, and was an Ebola worker during the West African epidemic. And co-hosted by Ron Klain, the U.S. Ebola czar from 2014 to 2015.
The COVID-19 pandemic may well be the defining moment of our times. Our lives have changed irrevocably. We need to understand the science so we can care for ourselves, our families, and our communities. And we need voices of reason to help us make sense of it all. “
“In the pod for this week are New Scientist journalists Rowan Hooper, Penny Sarchet and Graham Lawton. Also, the poet laureate Simon Armitage reads a poem written in response to the coronavirus crisis, called Lockdown. We discuss when you are likely to be at the peak of infection, whether it is possible to be infected twice, and why the coronavirus doesn’t seem to be affected much by heat and humidity. We also offer our tips for maintaining a healthy mental state during lockdown.”
You might also be interested in Jstor’s Teaching Pandemics Syllabus, a set of ‘readings on the history of quarantine, contagious disease, viruses, infections, and epidemics offer important context for the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic’.
There are a lot of articles here, covering issues of history, politics, law, language… all relevant in one way or another to the current pandemic.
So here we are, perfecting our social distancing skills while schools, sports and other forms of social engagement are on indefinite hold, by a dangerous virus named after a (regal) crown. The coronavirus is named because the center envelope is surrounded by small protein spikes called peplomers. These little protein spikes wreak havoc when they attach to lung tissue and hijack otherwise healthy tissue into building a potentially lethal coronavirus army of invaders.
Because the virus settles primarily with the respiratory tract – the nose, mouth and lungs – it is highly contagious when people sneeze, cough or exchange respiratory droplets with others. Despite its importance, social distancing has been a social disappointment for many weekend warriors, team sport athletes, fitness fanatics and sports fans who find camaraderie, biochemical joy from dopamine rushes or stress reduction through regular exercise and sport.
We areboth sports scientists who study athlete health and safety. We’re also proud exercise addicts who find the prospect of not exercising almost as disturbing as the prospect of the disease itself.
Here’s how exercise affects the immune system in response to the flu and some practical tips on how much people should (and should not) exercise.
Look for the ‘just right’ amount
Both too much and too little are bad while somewhere in the middle is just right. Scientists commonly refer to this statistical phenomenon as a “J-shaped” curve. Research has shown exercise can influence the body’s immune system. Exercise immunity refers to both the systemic (whole body cellular response) and mucosal (mucous lining of the respiratory tract) response to an infectious agent, which follows this J-shaped curve.
A large study showed that mild to moderate exercise – performed about three times a week – reduced the risk of dying during the Hong Kong flu outbreak in 1998. The Hong Kong study was performed on 24,656 Chinese adults who died during this outbreak. This study showed that people who did no exercise at all or too much exercise – over five days of exercise per week – were at greatest risk of dying compared with people who exercised moderately.
Thus, limited animal and human data cautiously suggest that exercise up to three days per week, two to three months prior, better prepares the immune system to fight a viral infection.
What if we have not exercised regularly? Will restarting an exercise routine be good or bad? Limited data, also obtained from mice, suggests that moderate exercise for 20 to 30 minutes a day after being infected with the influenza virus improves the chances of surviving. In fact, 82% of the mice who exercised 20-30 minutes a day during the incubation period, or the time between getting infected with flu and showing symptoms, survived. In contrast, only 43% of the sedentary mice and 30% of the mice who performed strenuous exercise – or 2.5 hours of exercise a day – survived.
Therefore, at least in laboratory mice, mild to moderate exercise may also be protective after we get infected with the flu virus, whereas a little exercise is good while no exercise – or even too much exercise – is bad.
For those who are “committed exercisers,” how much exercise is probably too much during a flu pandemic? It is clear that both too much exercise and exercising while sick increases the risk of medical complications and dying.
We conducted studies on both collegiate football players and cross-country runners, which showed a decrease in secretory immunoglobulin A, or “sIgA” when athletes competed and trained hard. SIgA is an antibody protein used by the immune system to neutralize pathogens, including viruses.
SIgA is also closely associated with upper respiratory tract infections (URTI). When sIgA levels go down, URTI’s usually go up. We saw this relationship in football players, whereas the players showed the most URTI symptoms when their sIgA levels were lowest. This indirectly suggests that over-exercise without adequate recovery may make our body more vulnerable to attack, especially by respiratory viruses. So, when it comes to immunity, our studies show that more exercise is not necessarily better.
How much exercise may be just right?
Here are some guidelines based on just the right amount – for most people.
Do perform mild to moderate exercise (20-45 minutes), up to three times per week.
Strive to maintain (not gain) strength or fitness during the quarantine period.
Do avoid physical contact during exercise, such as playing team sports, that is likely to expose you to mucosal fluids or hand-to-face contact.
Wash and disinfect equipment after use.
If you use a gym, find one that is adequately ventilated and exercise away from others to avoid droplets.
Remain engaged with teammates through social media, rather than social gatherings or contact.